Below are some thoughts on the occasion of the celebration of Greek Letters and Hellenic Education in America.
Like so many other things, we are leaving the important issue of our community’s education to its fate.
First, some background: As is well known, most of our schools belong to our parishes and consequently, to the Archdiocese. And this is because when the first immigrants built a school, they also built a church and vice versa – one often presupposes the other. It has always been so. Church and Hellenism were identical concepts. And that’s one of the reasons why they survived.
Therefore, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America is responsible for the education in the Greek-American community. However, for decades, our Archdiocese has not been able to decide whether it is really interested in our Greek schools, that is, in the preservation of our language and culture. Could it be that it simply declares it is interested out of fear of the public opinion of the omogeneia, and the Patriarchate?
One would think that even out of its own direct interest, the Archdiocese would embrace our schools. That it would raise significant sums of money, on an annual basis – as it does for so many other matters – to upgrade and expand them.
I do not think that one needs extraordinary education or imagination to realize how interconnected Church and School are.
Unless, without trumpeting it, we have made the decision that we are not interested in Greekness. But then let’s remove the word ‘Greek’ from the name of the Archdiocese.
Of course, it is difficult to accept that this can happen, not only for historical reasons, but also for practical ones.
In our time, it is difficult to see why it hurts to have a grasp of one’s identity and appreciation of one’s ethnic roots.
But there is another reason for it. Many of our clergy have insufficient knowledge of the Greek language and are ignorant of what Greekness is.
Our Archbishops often limit their interest in Hellenic education and culture to anniversary appearances at schools, thus ‘proving’ their devotion, but leaving the responsibility for their continuation to conscientious school boards, devoted teachers, and a few clergy and parents, who like the ‘Akrites’ – the Byzantine border guards – fight to stop a breakthrough by the enemy: indifference to our traditions and origins.
It is these people, the representatives of their organizations, to whom we owe honor and gratitude.
I emphasize and reiterate that their efforts are sincere and historically celebrated – despite the bitterness they often feel, perceiving that they are ignored or have been abandoned. In the final analysis, however, they have achieved something that few minorities have achieved: The Greek-American Community continues to have educational institutions.
That said, we cannot accept that Archbishop Elpidophoros, a young, well-educated hierarch, is not on the right side of history in this matter. Not when he elevates a certain priest and makes him a close associate. A priest whose ‘gift’ is his impressive propaganda prowess, with which he exploited the noble sentiments of Community officials, using the most incredible inaccuracies, to persuade them to turn down a $25 million donation from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation to the School of St. Demetrios Cathedral in Astoria. That would have been the biggest donation ever made to a Greek-American community school. A donation that would have guaranteed not only its perpetuation but would have upgraded it into one of New York City’s top schools – of course, while fully preserving its Greek identity.
Let us not despair, however. Our struggle is not lost. Let everyone do what they can. After all, Hellenism has always relied on the κουζουλούς- the “crazy” ones.